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TN Supremes Pick Haslam’s Chief Counsel as Next AG

Press release from Tennessee’s Administrative Office of the Courts; September 15, 2014:

Herbert H. Slatery, III will be the next Attorney General and Reporter of Tennessee, the Supreme Court announced this morning in Nashville.

Slatery, of Nashville, has served as Gov. Bill Haslam’s chief counsel since 2011. Prior to that, he was an attorney at a Knoxville law firm for 30 years.

“He is an excellent lawyer with proven leadership ability and sound judgment,” said Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee, who stood with the other justices to make the announcement about their unanimous choice in the courtroom at the Supreme Court building in downtown Nashville.

“It’s an incredible honor,” said Slatery in remarks after the announcement was made. “I am profoundly grateful for this opportunity.” He thanked his wife, Gov. Bill Haslam, and Attorney General Robert Cooper, Jr.

“He has played an important role in drafting major legislation during the current term and has worked closely with all branches of government. The people of the state of Tennessee can be proud to have someone of his caliber and experience representing them,” she said of Slatery.

Speaking for the Court, Chief Justice Lee thanked all of the applicants for their efforts and their commitment to public service.

“It was a challenging process because of the quality of the applicants. In the end we selected the person who we thought would be the very best lawyer to serve all Tennesseans,” she said.

The Court also praised the work of the outgoing attorney general.

“The Court extends a special thank you to Attorney General Robert Cooper, Jr. for his eight years of dedicated service to the people of Tennessee, as he has led that office with the highest level of skill and intellect,” Chief Justice Lee said.

Chief Justice Lee spoke to this year’s open process for selecting the state’s attorney general, describing how the Court accepted applications from any licensed attorney in the state. The completed and detailed applications were then made available to the public on the Court’s website. The Court also held a public hearing where the applicants and their speakers made their case for appointment and members of the public expressed their opinions about the applicants. Finally, the members of the Court asked questions of the eight applicants during public interviews.

Slatery is a graduate of the University of Virginia and the University of Tennessee College of Law. He has served as counsel to Governor Bill Haslam since 2011. Before serving in the Governor’s office, he practiced law for 30 years with Egerton, McAfee, Armistead and Davis in Knoxville. Slatery and his wife, Cary, have two children who both live in Knoxville.

Lee Elected Chief Justice, Term Begins Sept. 1

Press release from the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts; August 14, 2014:

Justice Sharon Lee will become Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court, effective September 1.

Justice Lee won a retention election for an eight-year term to the Court in the August 7, 2014 statewide election. She has been a member of the Tennessee Supreme Court since 2008.

“It’s an honor to serve the Court, the Tennessee judiciary, and the people of Tennessee in this role,” said Justice Lee. “I am grateful to the citizens of Tennessee for electing me to the Supreme Court and appreciate the confidence the members of the Court have shown by electing me as Chief Justice. I will continue to work to ensure that courts in Tennessee are fair and impartial.”

Before her appointment to the Supreme Court, Justice Lee served as a Judge on the Tennessee Court of Appeals from 2004-2008. From 1978-2004, she practiced law in her hometown of Madisonville and also served as a municipal judge, a mediator, and a county and city attorney. Justice Lee received both her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Tennessee.

Justice Lee is active in her community, serving on several boards including the YWCA Knoxville and the East Tennessee Historical Society. She also is involved with the Volunteer Ministry Center and the 2014 Congressional Medal of Honor Convention. Justice Lee has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Chief Justice William E. Barker Equal Access to Justice Award, the YWCA Knoxville 30 Remarkable Women over the past 30 years, the Lizzie Crozier French Leadership Award from the East Tennessee Women’s Leadership Council, YWCA Knoxville Tribute to Women Honoree, the Woman of Achievement Award from the Girl Scouts Council of the Southern Appalachians, the Spirit of Justice Award by the East Tennessee Lawyers’ Association for Women, and the University of Tennessee Alumni Professional Promise Award. Justice Lee has two daughters.

JAS: TN Supreme Court Election Campaign TV Ad Spending Surpassed $1.4 M

Press release from Justice at Stake; August 7, 2014:

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 7–Television ad spending in Tennessee’s Supreme Court election surged past $1.4 million, in a tough contest that attracted money from in-state and out-of-state sources. On Thursday, voters delivered new eight-year terms to all three incumbent Tennessee justices who sought retention to the five-member court.

“Partisans and special interests opened their checkbooks to send a message of intimidation to courts not just in Tennessee, but across America,” said Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg. “And to survive, Tennessee’s Supreme Court justices have had to become professional fundraisers, often soliciting money from parties who will appear before them in court.”

“The amount spent attempting to influence this retention election is deeply troubling,” said Alicia Bannon, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Arms race spending has no place in a supreme court election. Tennesseans shouldn’t have to worry about outside groups playing politics with their courts every time there is an election.”

According to estimates provided by Kantar Media/CMAG, more than $1.4 million worth of television advertising for and against the justices’ retention had aired by the time polls opened today. More than a million dollars’ worth of advertising contracts are also identified in publicly-available FCC files.

The Tennessee Forum, an anti-retention group funded by a PAC operated by Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, spent an estimated $474,150 on TV ads. An out-of-state group, The State Government Leadership Foundation, also spent $63,390 on TV ads to unseat the justices. Americans for Prosperity, a Koch Brothers-funded group, spent money on anti-retention radio campaign for which expenditures remain undisclosed.

The most spending on TV ads, however, came from the justices themselves, who spent an estimated $579,870 in joint ads defending against anti-retention efforts. Tennesseans for Fair Courts, a group formed by a local attorney, also spent $215,840 on TV ads to retain the judges, and Chief Justice Gary Wade funded TV ads totaling $94,980.

Skyrocketing judicial election spending has become the rule, not the exception in recent years. The $1.4-million Tennessee Supreme Court race follows a $1.3-million judicial primary in North Carolina in May, in which the Republican State Leadership Committee was a major spender, and an Arkansas Supreme Court race in which advertising spending doubled over the previous cycle.

The escalating spending on a judicial election in Tennessee matched a national trend of increasing expenditures on judicial elections since 2000, Brandenburg and Bannon noted. In recent years, the trend has spread to several states, such as Tennessee, that have worked to insulate courts from political pressure by establishing merit selection systems. Retention (up-or-down) elections held within the framework of merit selection systems have begun to attract spending and political pressure not previously seen in these races.

Television spending data for the Tennessee race, ads, and storyboards, are available at the Brennan Center’s Buying Time: Tennessee 2014 webpage. For past spending in judicial elections, read The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-2012: How New Waves of Special Interest Spending Raised the Stakes for Fair Courts, a report released by the Brennan Center, Justice at Stake and the National Institute on Money in State Politics. No fundraising or advertising has been previously documented in Tennessee Supreme Court elections in the New Politics reports.

TV Methodology

All data on ad airings and spending estimates are calculated and prepared by Kantar Media/CMAG, which captures satellite data in the nation’s largest media markets. CMAG’s calculations do not reflect ad agency commissions or the costs of producing advertisements, nor do they reflect the cost of ad buys on local cable channels. Cost estimates are revised by Kantar Media/CMAG when it receives updated data, resulting in some fluctuations in the reported ad spending.

Stewart Co Election Commish Chair Files Election Finance Complaint Against Justices

Press release from The Tennessee Forum; August 5, 2014:

NASHVILLE — A complaint recently filed with the Registry of Election Finance and made available to the Tennessee Forum levels three new charges at the campaign to retain Supreme Court Judges Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade. The complaint follows an earlier charge against Judge Gary Wade and establishes a pattern of disregard for campaign law and judicial ethics by the judges.

“This latest complaint is clear, concise and well-documented. With the election only days away, I implore Judges Clark, Lee and Wade to answer these charges immediately,” said Susan Kaestner. “The voters have a right to know whether judges seeking eight-year terms as the final arbiter of law and justice in the state have themselves been violating the law.”

“If we can’t trust these judges to follow simple campaign laws, how can we trust them to properly interpret the constitution and laws of this state?”

In the complaint, Robert Mallory says the joint campaign effort of the three judges is coordinating with the newly formed Tennesseans for Fair Courts PAC in violation of Tennessee state law. Mallory, who serves as Chairman of the Stewart County Election Commission, notes that the two groups’ current television ads (seen here and here) contain almost identical messages delivered in a similar way.

Mallory also points out that the campaign’s signs are illegal. Mallory references a news report that includes Justice Sharon Lee placing a campaign yard sign that does not comply with campaign finance law disclosure requirements, which is a criminal violation.

Mallory also notes that the coordinated campaign for the three judges’ Facebook page, which became active in May, carries a URL which is identical in name to the Tennessee for Fair Courts PAC which was not formed until June.

The PAC also failed to disclose whether expenditures were either in-kind or independent or in support of or opposing a particular candidate as required by campaign finance regulations.

A copy of the complaint can be accessed by clicking here.

Supreme Retention, Replacement Campaign Spending Tops $1.5 M

Press release from Justice At Stake; August 1, 2014:

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 1 – In the final week before the August 7 retention election for three incumbent Tennessee Supreme Court justices, spending has soared over a million dollars with both pro-retention and anti-retention groups investing heavily in television advertising, Justice at Stake has found.

“Tennessee has joined a growing club of states where courts face a tidal wave of spending and political pressure,” said Bert Brandenburg, Executive Director of Justice at Stake. “As judicial campaigns grow worse, money and partisan interests can’t be allowed to undercut impartial justice.”

According to state disclosures, the three incumbents, Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justices Cornelia Clark and Sharon Lee, have raised over $1,045,000 among their three campaigns since the start of the year. In addition, a pro-retention group, Tennesseans for Fair Courts, has raised over $46,000 this year.

An anti-retention group, the Tennessee Forum, has raised more than $426,000 since the start of the year, including a contribution of $425,000 from RAAMPAC, the PAC set up by Tennessee Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, who has led efforts to unseat the justices.

In recent days, Ramsey also distributed via email a video instructing voters how to vote against retention of the justices.

In addition, the Republican State Leadership Committee reports expenditures of over $196,000 on an anti-retention direct mail effort, while two other groups have spent undisclosed amounts on anti-retention efforts via direct mail and broadcast advertising: Americans for Prosperity, and the State Government Leadership Foundation, an RSLC partner group. The SGLF has purchased television advertising contracts worth more than $23,000, according to FCC filings by local television stations.

Overall, public files available on the FCC website show that at least $987,000 has been spent to book television advertising contracts by pro- and anti-retention groups. Of this, more than $562,000 has been spent by the justices’ campaigns and supporters, while more than $425,000 has been spent by opponents, led by the Tennessee Forum with more than $402,000.

Links to videos of the ads are available on the Buying Time website of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU.

TN Forum: Retention Campaign Mostly Funded by Lobbyists, Judges, Lawyers

Press release from The Tennessee Forum; August 1, 2014:

NASHVILLE — According to the most recent financial disclosures available at the Tennessee Registry of Elections website, Tennessee’s liberal Supreme Court is relying almost exclusively on lobbyists, judges and lawyers for their campaign cash. Nearly 70% of the Supreme Court’s coordinated campaign contributions during the most recent reporting period came from the legal community.

“Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade are clearly relying on their buddies on the bench and lawyers who must appear before them to fund their campaign,” said Susan Kaestner of the Tennessee Forum. “Accepting, much less soliciting, cash from lawyers who may have to practice in your court brings up a whole host of ethical dilemmas.”

“These lawyers were either trying to curry favor or felt intimidated into giving,” said Kaestner. “Nothing good can come from either of those scenarios.”

“I find it deeply concerning that there are at least two lobbyists on these disclosures. It is against the law for lobbyists to give to gubernatorial or legislative candidates. If you are a judge trying to remain truly independent, the last thing you want is to be seen cozying up to a lobbyist. Special interest money handed over straight from lobbyists to sitting justices has no place in our Supreme Court.”

“This is a campaign that is funded by trial lawyers and conducted by Obama operatives,” stated Kaestner. “Neither this court nor its campaign represents the average Tennessean in any way, shape or form.”

Each member of the court had an overwhelming majority of their campaign dollars come from the legal community during the most recent reporting period. Sharon Lee received the highest dollar amount at $73,780.00 which amounted to 71.55% of her contributions. Connie Clark’s total lawyer contributions clocked in at $55,685 or 70.19% and Gary Wade received 63.78% of his donations from lawyers which amounted to $53,239.

Altogether the Supreme Court coordinated campaign received $182,704 from lawyers, judges or lobbyists. That’s 68.7% of the total contributions taken in.

At least two people currently registered to lobby in Tennessee appear on the disclosures. Emily Ogden gave $250 to Sharon Lee and Candy Toler gave $100 to Gary Wade.

Tennessee Code Annotated 3-6-304(j) states: “No lobbyist shall offer or make any campaign contribution, including any in-kind contribution, to or on behalf of the governor or any member of the general assembly or any candidate for the office of governor, state senator or state representative.”

Ramsey: The Conservative Case to Replace the TN Supreme Court Justices

Letter from Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey; August 1, 2014:

Dear Friend,

If you’ve been following the state Supreme Court election, you know that for the first time in decades, Tennesseans are learning about our Supreme Court through the constitutionally-required election process.

You may remember that I began an educational effort to make sure that voters, victims-rights advocates and members of law enforcement knew an important election approached. My goal was to have an engaged and informed electorate so the retention ballot would be a real election rather than a coronation, as in years past.

At that time we knew, based on decisions the Court had made, that their judicial philosophy did not fit the values of most Tennesseans. I believed my role would be limited to raising awareness about the importance of Supreme Court elections.

Today, we know far more about our Supreme Court. Despite asserting that they are nonpartisan, their campaign team is made up entirely of Democrats – and not just any Democrats. Liberal Democrats with direct ties to Obama, Harold Ford Jr., and state Democrat Party chairman Roy Herron.

While their campaign is run by Obama liberals, their fundraising efforts are being executed by trial lawyers who have a vested personal interest in the outcomes of Supreme Court decisions.

The Tennessee Forum, an organization started to oppose Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign and fight a state income tax, is doing exceptional work on this replacement effort. They share the same conservative principles and mission as RAAMPAC, the organization I started over a decade ago to push the legislature in a more conservative direction.

RAAMPAC has always been about more than just obtaining numerical majorities — it has been about promoting the conservative cause. I cannot in good conscience sit on the sidelines while Obama operatives distort the record of this liberal Supreme Court and attack the reputations of those who oppose them.

My cause is the conservative cause. And the place for conservatives to be is fully behind the effort to replace a Supreme Court that is out-of-touch and out-of-line with Tennessee values.

That is where I am. If you have already voted REPLACE, thank you. If not, I hope you will join me in voting to REPLACE Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade.
Sincerely,

Ronald L. Ramsey
Lieutenant Governor
Speaker of the Senate

1 Legislative Plaza
Nashville, TN 37243
(615) 741-4524

TN Forum: Finance Disclosures Show Supremes Campaign Linked to D.C. Dems

Press release from The Tennessee Forum; August 1, 2014:

NASHVILLE — The latest campaign financial disclosures from Supreme Court judges Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade reveal more links to Washington, D.C. Democrats. An examination of the latest documents reveal more money changing hands between Tennessee’s Supreme Court judges and political operatives for Obama and Ford Jr.

“This disclosure eliminates any doubt,” said Susan Kaestner. “These judges are partisan Democrats, period. Tennessee does not need a Supreme Court that relies on Obama liberals to distort their records and make them appear to be something they are not.”

“Tennessee has utterly rejected Barack Obama and D.C. Democrats. It is time for Tennessee to vote replace on Democrats Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade,” Kaestner concluded.

Clark, Lee and Wade spent nearly $25,000 on media production with Democrat firm, Murphy Vogel Askew Reilly, LLC. MVAR bills itself as a “full-service political media firm with experience helping Democrats and progressive causes.” According to its website, the firm was the media team for the 2008 Barack Obama campaign. Other clients include Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz (D-CT).

Clark, Lee and Wade paid $300,000 to a Democrat advertising firm called Buying Time, LLC. The firm’s founder, Cathie Herrick boasts on the firm’s webpage that she handled day to day operations for the Clinton/Gore campaign in 1996.

Gary Wade paid Hart Research Associates $16,000 for research and polling. Hart Associates is the firm of noted Democratic pollster Peter Hart. Hart has worked for Hubert Humphrey, Lloyd Bentsen and Jay Rockefeller. Partners in his firm have represented noted liberals like Dianne Feinstein and Bernie Sanders.

Previous media reports identified three Democrat operatives working for the judges — including one who worked in Barack Obama’s White House and one who led Harold Ford Jr.’s campaign against Sen. Bob Corker. The disclosure confirms Clark, Lee and Wade continue to retain the services of former Obama operative Victoria McCullough, Harold Ford, Jr. communications director Carol Andrews and Democrat lobbyist Brenda Gadd.

TN Right to Life Joins Fight to Unseat Supremes

Press release from the Tennessee Forum; August 1, 2014:

NASHVILLE – Late yesterday, Tennessee Right to Life, the largest pro-life organization in Tennessee, put the full weight of its organization behind the effort to replace Supreme Court Judges Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade.

“The replacement effort has been building support and catching fire across the state,” said Susan Kaestner, President of The Tennessee Forum. “We are pleased to see Tennessee Right to Life speaking out on the importance of replacing the liberals on our Supreme Court.”

Tennessee Right to Life’s full endorsement letter is below.

Dear Members of Tennessee Right to Life,

Early voting is underway and Tennessee Right to Life is receiving many inquiries regarding the August 7 vote to replace three Supreme Court Justices.

Tennessee Right to Life is leading the critical campaign to win passage of Amendment 1 in the November election. It is important to note, however, that Amendment 1 is only necessary because of the judicial arrogance of the Tennessee Supreme Court. In the landmark case of Planned Parenthood of Middle Tennessee v. Sundquist, members of the state Supreme Court imagined themselves entitled to amend our Tennessee Constitution on the matter of abortion without the consent of Tennessee’s people.

Not only were common sense safeguards for the unborn and abortion-vulnerable women immediately stripped from state law books, so was any opportunity to adapt the challenged laws because the Tennessee Supreme Court established abortion as a so-called “fundamental right” in the Tennessee Constitution. With their radical pro-abortion ruling favoring Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, activist judges made clear that efforts by the people and our elected officials to “infringe” on this new right would not be tolerated.

So now we find ourselves facing the most significant and expensive abortion vote ever in Tennessee to nullify the Court’s terrible ruling and restore the rights of Tennesseans to have a voice in abortion policy and regulation.

Equally important is the matter of judges who place their policy preferences over those of the people. The opportunity to “replace” Justices Clark, Lee and Wade sends a strong message that we expect our judges to interpret the Constitution, not re-write it. Each was appointed by a pro-abortion Governor and enjoys the support of a pro-abortion establishment actively working to defeat pro-life Amendment 1.

For members seeking direction from Tennessee Right to Life PAC as to how your votes can best serve the cause of Life and the unborn in our state, we respectfully urge your votes to REPLACE Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade.

Toward that Goal,

Brian Harris, President
Tennessee Right to Life

Progressive Group Slams Nat’l Conservative Groups Involvement in Retention Race

Press release from the Center for American Progress; July 31, 2014: 

To: Interested Parties
From: Center for American Progress, Legal Progress
Re: National Right-Wing Groups Target Tennessee Judiciary

On August 7, Tennesseans will decide whether three Supreme Court judges appointed by Governor Phil Bredesen (D), along with other appellate judges, stay on the bench. Governor Bill Haslam (R) will fill any vacancy should the Supreme Court judges lose.

This election has obvious implications for Tennessee citizens, but national conservative groups are using it as a clarion call for the right wing agenda. That is why the Republican State Leadership Committee, or RSLC, and the Koch brothers-affiliated Americans for Prosperity, or AFP, have joined the race.

Right wing to spend millions to make sure courts put corporations over middle class families in Tennessee

The president of the RSLC said it plans to spend “north of $5 million” to elect judges this year, including more than $200,000 so far in Tennessee. With one week left in the race, the RSLC could be the biggest player in the Tennessee Supreme Court election.

The RSLC has not shied away from sharing their goal: protecting their radical, right wing agenda that puts corporations over middle class families. According to RSLC’s president, “Republicans have had a significant amount of success at the state level, not only being elected to offices but implementing bold conservative solutions… Unfortunately, that’s running into a hard stop with judges who aren’t in touch with the public.”

The “bold conservative” policies that have been challenged in court include legislation that disenfranchises voters, keeps injured citizens from filing lawsuits, and cuts essential services like health care and education. After the RSLC helped elect Republican legislators in Tennessee and North Carolina, the state legislatures passed two of the nation’s strictest voter ID laws.

In order to protect the agendas of GOP politicians, the RSLC has become the first national party organization focused on electing judges. It’s not just the RSLC. Americans for Prosperity are also running ads criticizing three Tennessee Supreme Court justices who are on the ballot on August 7.

The RSLC has done this before

Tennessee is not the only state in which the RSLC has spent millions of dollars trying to influence judicial elections. North Carolina is another prime example. In North Carolina, four out of seven seats are up for grabs in November. It is the first election in more than a decade in which candidates have no access to public financing.

The RSLC was the biggest spender in the May 5 primary election for the North Carolina Supreme Court. Its money funded ads attacking an incumbent justice for being “soft” on “child predators,” citing her dissent in one case. During the 2012 election, as the North Carolina Supreme Court was deliberating in the redistricting lawsuit, RSLC spent more than $1 million to keep the court’s 4-3 conservative majority in place. And then Justice Paul Newby, who benefited from the RSLC’s money, refused to recuse himself in the redistricting lawsuit.

Conclusion

The RSLC is seeking to use judicial elections to promote its right-wing agenda at the expense of middle class Tennesseans. After helping elect conservative legislators, the RSLC saw those legislators roll back the clock on voting rights, limit access to justice, and allow more money in politics. Citizens are challenging many of these statutes in state courts, but the RSLC is spending millions of dollars to ensure that their legislators’ agendas are not thwarted by the courts. The RSLC wants state courts that will serve as rubber stamps for legislatures. Citizens would be better served by independent courts that decide each case based on the facts and the law, not politics or partisanship.